Thanks to two strangers, a predictably boring world become a more colourful story with a satisfying climax. This is the summary of Pleasantville (1998) and is a classic film reminding us to break our comfort zone.
The movie stars Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, two kids living in the real world who are magically transported into the TV world of Pleasantville, an idyllic 1950s black and white community.
At first, Maguire and Witherspoon attempt to “fit in” to maintain the harmony within the community. But it doesn’t take long until the vibrant Witherspoon starts acting like her real-world self and literally starts to add colour to Pleasantville.
The moment characters began to behave contrary to what they were used to was when they started to change and realize their true colours.
Pleasantville remained pleasant because nobody went beyond the status quo. Nobody went outside their comfort zone. In doing so, they failed to grow or change. But they were content.
But personal growth and true change can only take place outside of the comfort zone.
What is the Comfort Zone?
It is our own personal Pleasantville – a psychological place where we are in total control. We are steady, relaxed, if not a little too content.
"Where our uncertainty, scarcity and vulnerability are minimized—where we believe we'll have access to enough love, food, talent, time, admiration. Where we feel we have some control." – Brene Brown, Ph.D.
Most of us who don’t live in poverty settle into a nice comfort zone at some point in our lives. Maybe it’s after getting a decent job and making enough to pay off the bills. Maybe it’s when we find a partner and build a relationship together.
It looks different for everyone, but it exists to a degree. And it’s almost inevitable especially since most people are peaceful and don’t want to cause a stir.
The best part about the comfort zone is the beginning: right when you hit the sweet spot. You feel relaxed. Life is good. You could live like this forever.
But ultimately, that sweet deal soon turns sour the longer it goes. Most of us aren’t built to live a monotonous life. We aren’t meant to just stay within ourselves.
It reminded me so much of an old friend from work.
What My Friend Turtle Taught Me About Comfort Zones
Turtle was the nicest person I met: sweet, considerate, and overly polite but also terribly afraid to leave his shell – his comfort zone, hence his nickname.
He was an extreme rule follower and was afraid something bad would happen if we did anything out of the ordinary. And yet he adored Pleasantville maybe because he aspired to its message.
A part of me looked at Turtle sympathetically because I saw myself in him if I were to ever sink too far into a comfort zone.
I prided myself as spontaneous and adventurous. Yet I was falling into a nice comfort zone: doing just enough work to get by and falling into predictable habits.
I’ve had so many great ideas about what to do with life. I’m so inspired but when it comes to walking the talk, I’m MIA.
Dreaming up new scenarios is so easy anyone can do it. But I was too afraid and too unmotivated because of how comfortable I’ve become.
How pleasant my life has become? I loved my Pleasantville and I saw no reason to change it.
But try as I might, my Pleasantville couldn’t continue.
I needed to grow because it’s what is natural. You don’t fit in the same clothes you wore in kindergarten, high school, or even five years ago.
Change doesn’t need to be drastic. You don’t need to quit your day job (although I did) or go on a pilgrimage in South America.
Just take time to listen to yourself. When doing the same old just isn’t fun anymore, it’s time to change.
Here are a few small ways you can slowly break out of the monotony of your comfort zone.
Do Something New Every Day
We’re not talking about anything drastic here. You don’t need to suddenly start helping the homeless or volunteering in your community. These are ideal but not all of us have the heart to do it. At least, not yet.
Take baby steps. Do something small.
Here are examples of small everyday things you can do or change:
- Order something different when you go out for lunch
- Take another route going home
- Change the time you go to bed or wake up
- Listen to something different
- Change your workout routine
There is a reason we all fall into a daily routine.
It’s more efficient and requires less thinking. In fact, it's necessary for the survival of our species.
As a remote worker, I still fall into daily habits like waking up around 10, going to the gym, and going to bed after midnight. And it’s tough to break this habit and I can imagine it’s even tougher for people who work a 9-5 job.
But doing something different every day will help break this cycle and “recalibrate” your thinking.
You might even discover new benefits to the new things you do. You might discover a new restaurant taking a different route home or you may get a more effective workout with a different routine.
Keep switching things up and reap the small benefits.
Do Something You Don’t Like
We get stuck in comfort zones for a good reason: it’s nice, safe, and easy in it.
But staying in it is like being a couch potato in life. At one point, you’ll have to get up and do something else.
One of the easiest ways to find something you don’t like is to look for things you have put off doing for the longest time.
You can easily find minor things lying around. Things you were supposed to do but didn’t.
- Why don't you like going on camera?
- Were you supposed to clean the washroom?
- Why haven’t you done your taxes yet?
- Did you promise a friend you’d read their manuscript?
- Why haven’t you tuned up your bicycle?
You can do these things. You don’t need any special training. You’ve put them off because they’re annoying or difficult and you don’t want to do them.
But keep an open mind and just do them. You may even end up liking them. And on top of it all, you might learn a thing or two.
Breaking comfort zones is about doing something uncomfortable after all.
Learn a New Language
This can be a bit challenging especially if you’ve spent most of your life used to only English but it’s never too late to try.
There are so many benefits to learning a new language and hardly any cons. The only real obstacle is its difficulty but that is only more incentive to try: to get out of your comfort zone.
Watch TV shows or online programs where they speak the language. Find children’s books and read them. Go frequent local places where people speak the language and listen in.
If you have friends who speak the language, ask them to help you.
Set goals and track your progress.
But be careful and specify on what type of language you want to learn. The language varies depending on where it is spoken. French in France is quite different than French in Quebec, for example.
Once you’re confident you’ve learned enough, then look to signing up for classes or overseas trips. Now, this is taking a huge step towards breaking your comfort zone.
Start Writing a Journal by Hand
You can use a laptop too or any other device but try writing by hand for the full benefits.
Writing on a journal by hand is said to stimulate the brain and inspire creativity.
It is also a good place to track all your latest activities and can be a good reference point. Make notes of new habits you’ve started, new activities you’ve done, and ways you’ve broken out of your habits.
Try writing about just the new things you’ve been doing. It only makes sense. It’s a journal not so much a daily report.
Journaling may also help you stick in your journey of slowly reinventing your life. Keep at it and look back to it occasionally, to see how much you’ve changed and how far you’ve come from your comfort zones.